Filene’s Basement, a department store offering bargain prices on high-end name brand clothing, has hosted the semi-annual “Running of the Brides” since 1947 in multiple cities across the United States. This event takes place at select stores at different times once per year and features designer bridal gowns at drastically reduced prices that range anywhere from $249.00 to $699.00. My aim with this article is not necessarily to critique the famed “Running of the Brides,” rather it is to offer an explanation of how this event is an example of physical culture. In seminar classes and group discussions we often debate about what is and is not physical culture and how we might better engage newer, non-traditional topics (for instance stripping, pornography, and alternative forms of dance). I believe that the “Running of the Brides” is one way to broaden the academic scope of Physical Cultural Studies (PCS).
In 2009, the annual “Running of the Brides” is scheduled to take place January 30th in Columbus, Ohio; February 20th in Boston, Massachusetts; February 27th in New York City, New York; and March 20th in Atlanta, Georgia. Throughout the year more dates and locations are added as surplus inventory accumulates. Filene’s Basement’s website explains the event as:
The day of the sale, brides-to-be and their helpers line up early. When the doors open, they run full speed towards the racks. In less than 60 seconds, the racks are stripped bare (store employees have to hold on to the fixtures so they don’t topple). The women grab whatever gowns they can, haul them off to a corner, strip down to their underwear and start trying on dresses. Minutes later the trading begins. Every dress, no matter what size, style or color, gets bartered for another, as each bride tries to find the gown of her dreams at a cut-rate price. (http://www.filenesbasement.com/bridal/)
Essentially this event is set up and designed for controlled chaos; in fact, it appears that the mayhem is part of the fun! Nonetheless, it takes the term bargain-hunting to a new level.
The component of this event that has made me believe the “Running of the Brides” should be of interest to PCS are the various articles I have found that give advice to participants. The founder of a bridal salon offers 10 steps to navigating any Filene’s Basement bridal event (http://www.atlantabridal.com/articles/runningbrides.asp). Below is a summary of her instructions:
1. Get there early or get there late
2. Leave all men at home, but do bring female help
3. Identify your team (and have them wear matching colors, etc.)
4. Wear appropriate clothing (leotard or sports bra and bike shorts; comfortable shoes)
5. Leave handbags at home (carry a fanny pack)
6. Think creatively
7. Be open-minded
8. Be courteous
9. Be fair
10. Have fun!
Another website also lists specific advice for attending this sale (http://gonewengland.about.com/od/bostonshopping/a/aarunningbrides.htm). The author reiterates instructions 1, 3, 4, 7, and 8 above and additionally recommends that brides decide in advance on the type of gown they want; bring a small mirror in case one is not available in the store; grab as many wedding dresses as possible; and to remember that “no dress is a bargain if you don’t love it.” Replacing the word “gown,” “wedding,” or “dress” in these 14 instructions with any other sport-related term (such as “soccer,” “equipment,” and “team”), these instructions easily be describing any element of contemporary physical culture.
Again to promote the ties to a sport-related spectacle, a participant from the April 2008 Leesburg, Virginia location event explains:
[T]he Running of the Brides sale at Filene’s Basement … designer dresses, super cheap, lots of women—is pretty much the best way I’ve ever spent a Friday morning. Maybe it’s because I’m not a bride dealing with the stress of actually finding a dress, but come on. You’ve got people camping out overnight! A line that took two-and-a-half minutes of video footage to pan! Groups in matching shirts and crazy hats! Wedding vendors handing out donut holes! A you-really-might-get-trampled stampede at the door! (http://www.washingtonian.com/blogarticles/weddings/bridalparty/7328.html)
This passage is from a woman assisting a bride to find her dress but she could be referring to ticket sales for an important contest or the overall sentiment about being able to attend a major sporting event with her description of the sale.
Furthering my attempt to relate this event to PCS, I believe there are many contextual factors that influence the “Running of the Brides.” Not only has this event been taking place for over 60 years, but today motivations for participation are enmeshed with our current economic turmoil and the successful marketing tactics of the wedding industry that make brides think they need a designer label. The desire to have an expensive wedding of grandiose proportions has never been greater. In fact, Brides Magazine reports the average cost of a wedding to be $27,852 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28156237/), and therefore any location that sells exclusive products at a deep discount is going to cause a stir. Additionally, popular television shows such as CSI: NY and Friends have used analogous bridal events to advance their plotlines, which has also helped to promote the intrigue of the “Running of the Brides.” The media, pop culture, and the wedding industry all contribute to saturating the American public (particularly women) with wedding-fever. Both scripted and reality TV programs on major networks are devoted to engagements, weddings, wedding dresses, and marriages, all of which further the advancement of the industry as do celebrities and their ringing endorsements for the proliferation of designer gowns and the “perfect” day.
Overall the “Running of the Brides” has a unique relationship to physical culture, definite parallels to many of the topics we research, and is indicative of a broader cultural ethos in the U.S. today. For example, on November 28, 2008, or “Black Friday,” a Wal-Mart employee died in a stampede at a Long Island, New York store attempting to fend off anxious customers trying to get a discount and a jump on their holiday shopping. Three other shoppers were injured in the mad rush to get inside (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/28/national/main4637170.shtml). Perhaps with our current economic climate, the future holds more physical, wild, and even dangerous consumer experiences engineered for the fittest consumers to enjoy a bargain.
Beckius, K. K. (2009, January 25). The running of the brides. Retrieved January 26, 2009 from http://gonewengland.about.com/od/bostonshopping/a/aarunningbrides.htm
Conrad, M. (2008, April 4). Running of the brides: I’m alive!. Retrieved January 26, 2009 from http://www.washingtonian.com/blogarticles/weddings/bridalparty/7328.html
Filene’s basement. (n.d). Retrieved January 26, 2009, from http://www.filenesbasement.com/bridal/
Lydle, L. (2008, October 20). Running of the Brides. Retrieved January 26, 2009, from http://www.atlantabridal.com/articles/runningbrides.asp
Man dies after Wal-Mart stampede. (2008, November 28). Retrieved January 26, 2009 from
Saying ‘I do’ in an exotic locale can save dough. (2008, December 10). Retrieved January 26, 2009 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28156237/